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December 28, 2014 / 6 Tevet, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Nixon’

Obama’s Lament to Fox New Echoes ‘Tricky Dick’ Nixon’s Tears

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

On November 7, 1962 President Richard M. Nixon said at his so-called “last press conference” after he lost the race for governor of California to to Democratic incumbent Pat Brown, “I leave you gentleman now. You will now write it; you will interpret it; that’s your right. But as I leave you I want you to know…. just think how much you’re going to be missing. You don’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”

On February Super Bowl Sunday, February 2, 2014, President Barack Obama told Fox News in interviewer’s Bill O’Reilly’s taped session, “What you guys are gonna have to figure out is … what are you gonna do when I’m gone?”

There is no comparison of the man Nixon, known as Tricky Dick, with Obama. Nixon was uncouth. Obama is sophisticated, or at least pseudo-sophisticated.

But there is a common thread in their laments to the media, a common denominator of feeling sorry for themselves.

Nixon’s speech was that of a total crybaby who painted himself as an innocent victim of the media, and Jews, to nail him to the political cross.

He said, “I believe in reading what my opponents say and I hope that what I have said today will at least make television, radio, the press, first recognize the great responsibility they have to report all the news and, second, recognize that they have a right and a responsibility, if they’re against a candidate, give him the shaft, but also recognize if they give him the shaft, put one lonely reporter on the campaign who will report what the candidate says now and then.”

Fox News is known as having no love for President Obama, who granted the network’s Bill O’Reilly an interview before the Super Bowl game, just as he did last year to CBS when it carried the football game.

“Do you think I’m being unfair to you?” O’Reilly asked.

“Absolutely,” Obama said. “Of course you are, Bill — but, I like you anyway.”

After leading questions about “health care not working” and a”wholly corrupt IRS,” the president continued, “This is okay. If you want to be president of the United States, then you know that you’re going to be subject to criticism. I think regardless of whether it’s fair or not … it has made Fox News very successful.”

And: “What you guys are gonna have to figure out is … what are you gonna do when I’m gone?”

Nixon wasn’t smart smug enough to take the credit for helping reporters to sell their newspapers.

Obama has the chutzpa and the conceit to do so, but the bottom line is that both Obama, like Nixon, feels sorry for himself.

In three years Fox News won’t have Obama to kick around anymore.

But unlike Nixon, Obama always will have The New York Times to kiss him where he has been kicked.

The Nixon Fascination

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Americans never seem to tire of Richard Nixon, the man who strode the nation’s political stage for three decades, as congressman, senator, vice president and president, only to see his career come crashing down when his involvement in the Watergate scandal led to his resignation – the only U.S. president to so step down – in order to avoid certain impeachment.

More than thirty-seven years after he left office and eighteen years after his passing, Nixon’s legacy is still debated more intensely than that of most other presidents. The flood of articles and books on Nixon – on his psyche, his image, his politics, even the movies he watched and what they tell us about him and his era – shows no sign of abating anytime soon.

In 2008 the big political book of the year was Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland, a nearly 900-page opus that endeavored to explain how Nixon put his stamp on the nation in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This month Nixon is back in the news with the publication of an entirely different kind of book, the gossipy Nixon’s Darkest Secrets by former radio reporter Don Fulsom.

Love him or hate him (and it’s sometimes difficult to remember that despite his indisputable dark side and the fear and revulsion he inspired in millions, an uncountable number of his countrymen supported him with an almost unquenchable passion), Nixon in death has remained every bit the intriguing figure he was in life. And with the passage of time – and the revelation that presidents before Nixon had engaged in many of the same activities that ultimately brought him down – the old antipathies may have softened, if only a bit.

Some, like Ben Stein, a young Nixon speechwriter who went on to make a lucrative Hollywood career for himself as one of the more recognizable faces (and voices) on television and in movies, has never wavered in his defense of Nixon.

“Can anyone,” Stein has asked, “even remember now what Nixon did that was so terrible?…. Does anyone remember what he did that was bad? Oh, now I remember. He lied. He was a politician who lied. How remarkable. He lied to protect his subordinates who were covering up a ridiculous burglary that no one to this date has any clue about its purpose. He lied so he could stay in office and keep his agenda of peace going. That was his crime…. He was a peacemaker. He was a lying, conniving, covering up peacemaker. He was not a lying, conniving drug addict like JFK, a lying, conniving war starter like LBJ, a lying, conniving seducer like Clinton….”

Even a liberal like the iconoclastic writer Nicholas von Hoffman was already having second thoughts about Nixon not long after he left the White House: “In the months since [Nixon’s] departure, his defense looks better. Half a dozen Congressional committees have brought forth volumes of information all adducing that the break-ins, the [phone] tapping, snooping and harassment have been routine government activities for at least a generation.”

There has also been much rethinking, in the decades since Nixon’s resignation, of the journalistic techniques popularized by the Washington Post reporters who made their careers on Watergate, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Watergate, according to liberal Columbia University historian Alan Brinkley, “created a model of journalism that is easily abused and debased. It created generations of people trying to replicate that role by digging in more and more unsavory ways. As much as Watergate is a model of the journalism that we admire, you can also see in it the origins of the distrust we have today.”

Former Nixon speechwriter Ray Price wrote that “It was Nixon’s misfortune to be in office when both ‘advocacy journalism’ and the notion that the media should be ‘adversary’ to the government enjoyed their greatest modern-day vogue.”

The late Vernon Walters, deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the early 1970s, was more direct: “[T]he idea of this man [Nixon] winning the largest number of electoral votes since George Washington…this drove the media absolutely insane; they had to get rid of him. It was not a professional thing with the media; it was an emotional thing….”

Who Saved Soviet Jewry?

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

The recent release of additional Nixon White House presidential documents and tapes produced the usual response. As has become customary, brief excerpts of the tapes – excerpts that invariably show President Nixon and members of his administration in the most unflattering light possible – are pulled from the reams of material and hours of conversations and given broad coverage in the media.

This most recent release has refocused attention on the terrible plight in the early 1970s of Soviet Jewry – the many hundreds of thousands of Jews living in the then-Soviet Union who were subject to persecution by the state and whose attempts to emigrate from the USSR were systematically blocked by Soviet authorities.

Henry Kissinger recently put into context a brief, one-minute exchange he had with the president about this issue that, on its face, is simply appalling. But that’s why context is important. The widely quoted conversational snippet does not reflect the Nixon administration’s efforts to improve the condition of Soviet Jews.

Responding to Kissinger, Gal Beckerman, the author of a recently published book about Soviet Jewry, claims Kissinger was “dismissive” of the Soviet Jewry movement. He seeks to award sole credit to the Soviet Jewry movement for the enormous increase in the number of Jews permitted to leave the Soviet Union during the Nixon years.

Beckerman falls into the trap of believing that the Soviet Union, at the height of its global power, could be swayed in its course by the vigorous expression of public demands by the West, especially by the president of the United States. He appears to forget that the titanic struggle for global dominance between the Communist world and the free world being fought at that time – especially on the battlefields of Vietnam – meant the Soviets would never give an inch when challenged publicly. They dared not risk appearing to yield to the demands of the West, especially given their struggle with China for supremacy of the communist world.

Perhaps those of us who admire President Nixon’s foreign policy achievements should be grateful that people are fighting over the credit for this particular success of détente. Beckerman, however, does the historical record a disservice when he dismisses the Nixon administration’s unprecedented success in substantially increasing the numbers of Soviet Jews who were permitted to leave the Soviet Union as a result of détente.

Nixon’s policy toward the Soviet Union was predicated on engaging the Soviet Union, through diplomacy, on issues in the national interests of both nations. Nixon eschewed the hot rhetoric of the Cold War in favor of an approach that allowed the Soviets to maintain their public countenance of a mighty nation who wouldn’t yield to the public pressures of anyone, anytime, anyplace.

The Soviets maintained their “tough face” for the world even as they found themselves working with the United States to limit the growth of nuclear arms, open their borders to greater numbers and varieties of cultural exchanges, and increase trade. All of this reduced tensions and, ultimately, launched the beginning of the eventual end of the Soviet Union.

The Nixon administration’s approach to the Soviet Union on the matter of Soviet Jewry was informed by the belief – a belief well grounded in Nixon’s own experience and in history – that efforts to publicly embarrass the Soviets in the court of world opinion on matters they considered strictly their own “internal affair” would be counterproductive.

Nixon understood the Soviets would respond to such pressure by digging in their heels. He knew that to maintain their aura of power and invincibility – both domestically and to their “allies” in the Warsaw Pact and beyond – the Soviet leaders believed they had to stand up to such pressure. They always wanted to show that the West could not use the bully pulpit to bully them.

Richard Nixon’s Memoirs is the definitive source for insight into his thinking on the issue of Soviet Jewry:

I have never had any illusions about the brutally repressive nature of Soviet society. But I knew that the more public pressure we placed on Soviet leaders, the more intransigent they would become . I felt that we could accomplish a great deal more on the Jewish emigration issue when we were talking with the Soviets than when we were not. Although we did not publicly challenge the Soviet contention that these questions involved Soviet internal affairs, both Kissinger and I raised them privately with Brezhnev, Gromyko, and Dobrynin. This approach brought results . [T]he statistics are proof of undeniable success: from 1968 to 1971 only 15,000 Jews were allowed to emigrate. In 1972 alone, however, the number jumped to 31,400. In 1973, the last full year of my presidency, nearly 35,000 were permitted to leave. [RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, page 876]

Beckerman in his book identifies 1964 as the beginning of a 25-year Soviet Jewry movement in the United States. Notably, the first five years of the effort brought few results. Prior to the Nixon administration’s policy of détente, the annual number of Soviet Jews permitted to leave for Israel was counted in the hundreds. It is only after Nixon began his private approach – head of state to head of state – that the annual numbers began to be counted in the tens of thousands.

Waiting For The Nixonphobes

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Five years ago this week, the Monitor learned firsthand just how the mere mention of Richard Nixon is enough to turn even the most mild-mannered of liberals into screaming viragos. In that particular case, the words about Nixon that so provoked them – their tortured heads no doubt filled with the sounds of werewolves howling and fingernails scratching blackboards – appeared not in this column but in a front-page essay for this paper penned by your humble scribbler.

The piece, titled “The ‘Anti-Semite’ Who Saved Israel,” was based solely on the accounts of eyewitnesses and the work of reputable scholars, but that didn’t stop a distressingly large number of readers (several websites and blogs had mentioned or linked to the article) from accusing this mild-mannered reporter of everything from sugar-coating Nixon’s anti-Semitism to exaggerating his role in the monumental arms airlift at the heart of the story.

Of all the negative responses – many of them larded with CAPS and exclamation points, usually telltale signs of an ignoramus at work – not one dealt in substance. Conspiracy theories abounded – they always do with those who accept as fact every crackpot message they receive via e-mail or by telepathy or from signals emitted by UFOs.

When yours truly used some of the material from that front-page essay in an online article for Commentary magazine last October commemorating Nixon’s role in rescuing Israel during the Yom Kippur War, the outpouring of hatred from unhinged liberals was no less daunting.

One of the more popular notes sounded by respondents to the 2005 front-page essay was that Nixon’s actions on behalf of Israel were prompted by Golda Meir’s supposedly having had in her possession all sorts of juicy political and personal dirt on Tricky Dick that she threatened to make public. Another commonly cited blackmail scenario had Golda putting the squeeze on Nixon by threatening the use of nuclear weapons – a fanciful bit of fiction inspired by the play “Golda’s Balcony,” in which a very old, very tired and, it has to be said, very mediocre prime minister is depicted as Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle all wrapped up in one.

Well, someone who was in a position to know about these things is certainly a more reliable source than some playwright with a political axe to grind, so when your dogged correspondent penned the Commentary piece last fall, he turned to the eyewitness testimony of Mordechai Gazit, who at the time of the Yom Kippur War was director general of both the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Here’s what Gazit had to say to Gerald Strober and Deborah Hart Strober in their oral historyNixon: An Oral History of His Presidency: “The airlift was decided not because we asked for it. Our relations with the United States were not at a point where we could have asked for an airlift; this was beyond our imagination.”

Hard as it may be to believe, this was still not good enough for some of the more deranged Nixon-haters, who accused this unassuming scribe of taking things out of context or the Strobers of getting the story all wrong. In fact, the Strobers had a lot more in their book. For example, Gazit recounted to the Strobers Golda Meir’s visit to the White House in early November, shortly after the end of the war. No hint here of Nixon feeling as if he’d been coerced by Meir: “The meeting lasted between a half hour and forty minutes…. [Nixon] told Golda, ‘I took three critical decisions on your behalf: the airlift, the $2.2 billion to finance the arms, and the confrontation with the Soviets in’ – as he put it – ‘the precautionary alert.’ And then he whispered to her, ‘I can’t do it again.’ By this we understood him to mean that he had his own problem – Watergate; that he was not very strong, and that he was saying the time had come for us to move along in the peace process.”

And Aharon Yariv, who in a long career served in a variety of Israeli governmental positions, including chief of military intelligence, added this perspective in his interview with the Strobers: “The relationship between Nixon and Golda was one of personal friendship. When we came to the White House they were sitting next to each other in armchairs, and he put his hand on hers and said, ‘You and Brezhnev would get along well together.’ Golda would refer to Nixon as ‘my president.’ ”

But what did Gazit, Yariv and Meir know? Surely not as much as the Nixonphobes whose latest missives the Monitor eagerly awaits.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

David Levine, 1924 – 2009: A Satirist Who Loved His Species

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

At a parent-teacher conference, one of my high school bible instructors told my mother I was well behaved and sat quietly in the back of the room. “If he is sitting quietly in class,” my mother assured the rabbi, “he is either reading a book or drawing.” She was right. My primary high school achievements were my ravenous readings of philosophy and literature and the few hundred copies I made of David Levine’s brilliant pen-and-ink caricatures, which filled several sketchbooks. I was too young to get most of his political references, but when they were explained to me, I laughed genuinely and hysterically.

 

Even after I moved to New York, it never occurred to me to look Levine up in the phonebook. He was a role model and one of my greatest inspirations, and I assumed that he was inaccessible. I had no way of knowing how kind and humble he was. Then I met artist Mark Podwal, a close friend of Levine’s, at an event at the Yeshiva University Museum in 2004, and he encouraged me to make the call.

 


David Levine. Ben Gurion.

 

 

I still remember the phone call. I was sitting at a computer in the office of the Yeshiva University Commentator. When Levine picked up, I told him I learned how to draw portraits by trying in vain to copy his meticulous cross-hatching. Though I was sure the artist who published thousands of drawings and paintings in the New York Review of Books and in publications like The New Yorker and Time had better things to do with his time, he shocked me by agreeing to an interview right then. After the shock wore off, chutzpah kicked in; I told him I wanted to meet in person. To my surprise, he was giving me his address in Brooklyn and telling me to stop by the next week.

 

Levine gave me more than two hours of his time, and actually looked at and critiqued every single one of the 100 or so of my drawings in the sketch book I brought. He very kindly told me that he preferred my copy of his Ezra Pound (which I drew without lifting my Rapidograph pen) to the original. Needless to say, there was no comparison.

 

There have been many fine articles about Levine over the past few weeks (Michael Kimmelman’s in The New York Times and Steven Heller’s piece “The Da Vinci of Caricaturists” are personal favorites), and readers can find out plenty about him by reading his bio on the Review of Books page, where many of his drawings are available. Amongst those drawings are dozens of images of Jewish and Israeli politicians, actors, artists, intellectuals and other celebrities, many bearing very distinct Jewish symbols.

 


David Levine standing in front of some of his drawings. 2004.

Photo by Menachem Wecker.

 

 

The reason I am writing this column about Levine, though, is not only because I consider him such a great caricaturist (and an even more impressive painter), but also because he was such a great man. Both Levine’s wife Kathy Hayes and his son Matthew Levine told me that Levine, despite the biting humor of his drawings, “truly loved his species.” Levine’s art was always blunt, but he was neither petty nor vicious.

 

Hayes told me that her husband’s lap was always full of art books, even if the television was on, and that he impressed her with the humor of his non-sequiturs – in his conversation, not his drawings. The first time she went to Europe with her husband, Hayes said, they went to Notre Dame. Hayes remembers being blown away by the art, while Levine, looking up at a painting high up on the wall, loudly complained of its water damage and the poor lighting.

 

According to Matthew Levine, his father was not religiously observant, but “I do know that he loved being Jewish.” Levine also “relished Yiddishisms that he liked to say,” said Matthew, and he loved his mother’s geshmirte matzoh. “He was deeply supportive of Israel in some senses, and deeply critical in others.”

 

Although Levine told me that he did not think Hitler could be depicted properly in a caricature, because the medium would invariably distort Hitler and play into his favor, Levine drew Hitler dozens of time. One reference to Hitler might escape many viewers.

 

 


David Levine. Richard Nixon’s and Spiro Agnew’s dance. 1970.

 

 

According to Podwal, Levine’s drawing of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew (which appears on page 11 of Levine’s book Pens and Needles), both dressed in military uniforms and doing a dance with their hands on their hips, alludes to Hitler’s bizarre dance on June 21, 1940, after accepting France’s surrender.

 


Although the dance upset many Americans at the time, it was later revealed that the video clip of Hitler dancing had been manipulated for propagandist purposes. As John Lukacs explains in his book, The Last European War: September 1939-December 1941, John Grierson, a Canadian filmmaker and “propaganda official,” took several images of Hitler, including one with a high step, and “looped” them together to make it appear that Hitler had danced a “silly little jig.”

 


Adolf Hitler’s alleged dance. Germany. October 1940. LIFE.

 

 

Lukacs cites an account of the jig being shown in a Berlin movie theater in 1940, which suggests some version of the dance may have been real – “Were the Germans so stupid as to show the American version of the newsreel?” Lukacs wonders – but either way, Podwal says Levine was probably unaware that the jig was a hoax. Irrespective of the historicity of the dance, Levine incorporated it into the drawing, although he knew full well that few people were likely to recognize it. It often seems to me that Levine achieved something in his caricatures not unlike what James Joyce accomplished in his writings.

 

“David was in such a class by himself that over the last decade or so, he was to some degree, taken for granted. The New York Times failed to review his more recent Forum Gallery exhibitions. Museums would not give him exhibitions he more than merited,” says Podwal. “Nevertheless, his work will remain a mirror of our time – just like the drawings of Thomas Nast.”


 


Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, DC.

An Unlikely Yom Kippur Hero

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

This week marks the 36th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, so it seemed appropriate to revisit Richard Nixon’s role in enabling Israel to recover from the staggering setbacks it suffered in the first week of fighting.

As the Monitor noted four years ago in a Jewish Press front-page essay on Nixon and the Jews – elements of which appear this week at commentarymagazine.com and thenewnixon.org – precise details of what transpired in Washington during the first week of the Yom Kippur War are hard to come by, due in no small measure to conflicting accounts given by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger regarding their respective roles.

What is clear, from the preponderance of information provided by those directly involved in the unfolding events, is that President Richard Nixon – overriding inter-administration objections and bureaucratic inertia – implemented a breathtaking transfer of arms, code-named Operation Nickel Grass, that over a four-week period involved hundreds of jumbo U.S. military aircraft delivering more than 22,000 tons of armaments.

This was accomplished, noted Walter J. Boyne in an article in the December 1998 issue of Air Force Magazine, while “Washington was in the throes of not only post-Vietnam moralizing on Capitol Hill but also the agony of Watergate…. Four days into the war, Washington was blindsided again by another political disaster – the forced resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew.”

“Both Kissinger and Nixon wanted to do [the airlift],” said former CIA deputy director Vernon Walters, “but Nixon gave it the greater sense of urgency. He said, ‘You get the stuff to Israel. Now. Now.’ ”

Boyne, in his book The Two O’Clock War, described a high-level White House meeting on October 9:

As preoccupied as he was with Watergate, Nixon came straight to the point, announcing that Israel must not lose the war. He ordered that the deliveries of supplies, including aircraft, be sped up and that Israel be told that it could freely expend all of its consumables – ammunition, spare parts, fuel, and so forth – in the certain knowledge that these would be completely replenished by the United States without any delay.

White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig concurred:

As soon as the scope and pattern of Israeli battle losses emerged, Nixon ordered that all destroyed equipment be made up out of U.S. stockpiles, using the very best weapons America possessed.… Whatever it takes, he told Kissinger … save Israel.

“It was Nixon who did it,” recalled Nixon’s acting special counsel, Leonard Garment. “I was there. As [bureaucratic bickering between the State and Defense departments] was going back and forth, Nixon said, This is insane…. He just ordered Kissinger, “Get your [expletive] out of here and tell those people to move.”

Haig, in his memoir Inner Circles, wrote that Nixon, frustrated with the initial delays in implementing the airlift and aware that the Soviets had begun airlifting supplies to Egypt and Syria, summoned Kissinger and Schlesinger to the Oval Office on October 12 and “banished all excuses.”

The president asked Kissinger for a precise accounting of Israel’s military needs, and Kissinger proceeded to read aloud from an itemized list.

“Double it,” Nixon ordered. “Now get the hell out of here and get the job done.” When Schlesinger initially wanted to send just three transports to Israel because he feared anything more would alarm the Arabs and the Soviets, Nixon snapped: “We are going to get blamed just as much for three as for 300…. Get them in the air, now.”

Informed of yet another delay – this one because of disagreements in the Pentagon over the type of planes to be used for the airlift – an incensed Nixon shouted at Kissinger, “[Expletive] it, use every one we have. Tell them to send everything that can fly.”

Wrote Nixon biographer Stephen E. Ambrose:

Those were momentous events in world history. Had Nixon not acted so decisively, who can say what would have happened? The Arabs probably would have recovered at least some of the territory they had lost in 1967, perhaps all of it. They might have even destroyed Israel. But whatever the might-have-beens, there is no doubt that Nixon … made it possible for Israel to win, at some risk to his own reputation and at great risk to the American economy.

He knew that his enemies…would never give him credit for saving Israel. He did it anyway.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

On Middle East, Ford Was A Kissinger Acolyte

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007
      Gerald Ford, who passed away last week at age 93, was considered a solid friend of Israel throughout his long Congressional career. A popular speaker at Jewish organizational functions, he never hesitated to support all manner of financial and military aid to Israel and was one of the first elected officials to urge that the U.S. recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
 
      That unabashed enthusiasm underwent a speedy metamorphosis, however, once Ford became president in August 1974. Just a week after he assumed the presidency, Ford was asked at a press conference about his stance on Jerusalem. “That particular proposal,” he replied with no discernible sheepishness, “ought to stand aside.”
 
      (Ford’s transformation from something of a pro-Israel cheerleader to more of an even-handed interlocutor should serve as a cautionary tale for those inclined to put much stock in the past rhetoric, even the past actions, of politicians who run for president pledging to remain single-mindedly devoted to Israel. It’s one thing for a congressman to maintain an unblemished record of support for Israel and quite another for a president, whose concerns encompass a complex range of strategic issues and fragile alliances.)
 
      By his own admission Ford was inordinately influenced by Henry Kissinger, the secretary of state and national security adviser he inherited from Richard Nixon. Ford had concentrated on domestic issues during his career in the House, and as a result lacked both experience and self-confidence in the realm of foreign policy, which of course made him especially susceptible to Kissinger’s sway.
 
      Kissinger had been a respected foreign-policy scholar before Richard Nixon brought him to Washington; Ford had a layman’s grasp of history and none of Kissinger’s sophisticated, first-hand experience with diplomacy.
 
      “It would be hard for me to overstate the admiration and affection I had for Henry,” Ford wrote in his memoirs. “Our personalities meshed. I respected his expertise in foreign policy and he respected my judgment in domestic politics.”
 
      By retaining Nixon’s foreign policy czar, Ford tied himself to Nixon’s foreign policy. Detente with the Soviet Union and an easing of hostilities with China were Nixon’s major legacies, but plenty of unfinished business remained – particularly in the Middle East, where, in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, the U.S. faced growing Arab hostility and an Israeli government in upheaval.
 
      Hoping to restore at least a semblance of order on the ground, Kissinger spent weeks in late 1973 working out interim disengagement agreements among Egypt, Syria and Israel. But negotiations over more permanent arrangements would take months, and when the accords where finally hammered out they were scheduled to take effect in stages, giving the parties involved – specifically Israel, which had agreed to make painful territorial concessions – enough time for second thoughts.
 
      Meanwhile, the golden image Israel had long enjoyed in the U.S. was showing signs of tarnish. The mainstream media were increasingly portraying Israel not as a virtuous outpost of democracy threatened by its rapacious enemies but as an intransigent colossus lording it over its helpless neighbors, while arguments for supporting Israel began to lose resonance with the man in the street as the Arab oil embargo and its deleterious effect on the nation’s economy steadily diminished his buying power.
 
      Also, admiration for Israel’s military prowess had faded in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, not just in the nation at large but among America’s own soldier class. “The Israelis,” wrote Steven Spiegel in The Other Arab-Israeli Conflict, his well-regarded study in Middle East diplomacy, “even suffered in the Pentagon, where their image as effective fighters had been tarnished by their early war losses; some officers resented the loss of equipment sent to Israel during the emergency.”
 
      Israel’s plummeting prestige loosed some tongues that might otherwise have remained silent. Remarks made at Duke University in October 1974 by the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, Gen. George Brown, sent shockwaves through the American Jewish community.
 
      In a rambling response to a question about whether he thought the U.S. might one day have to intervene militarily in the Middle East, Brown said he hoped not, “but you can conjure up the situation where there is another oil embargo and people in this country are not only inconvenienced and uncomfortable, but suffer and they get tough-minded enough to set down the Jewish influence in this country and break that lobby. It’s so strong you wouldn’t believe now. They own, you know, the banks in this country, the newspapers .you just look at where the Jewish money is in this country.”
 
      The administration disavowed Brown, but judging from calls to radio talk shows, letters to newspapers and telegrams to the White House, his remarks reflected the sentiments of a significant number of Americans. Whether the growing impatience with Israel had any influence on Kissinger is a matter of speculation, but what is certain is that the secretary of state felt free to employ imagery suggesting an intransigent Israel whenever negotiations reached an impasse.
 
      At one point during a touchy stretch of the discussions, Kissinger delivered an especially scathing diatribe to Israel’s negotiating team, fuming that “Such bargaining is not dignified for an American secretary of state. I am wandering around here like a rug merchant in order to bargain over 100 to 200 meters! Like a peddler in the market! I’m trying to save you, and you think you are doing me a favor when you are kind enough to give me a few more meters.”
 
      The last straw for Kissinger came in March 1975, as the date approached for Israel to surrender more of the Sinai as stipulated in the third and final accord signed with Egypt. A disagreement arose over how far Israel was obligated to pull back, and Kissinger peevishly warned the Israelis that he foresaw “pressure building up to force you back to the 1967 borders.”
 
      At that point the Ford administration announced “a reassessment of United States policy in the region, including our relationship with Israel.” Kissinger left the Middle East in a dark mood, referring to Yitzhak Rabin as a “small man” and calling the Israeli government’s stance “lunacy.”
 
      As part of the “reassessment,” the White House froze all scheduled arms deliveries to Israel, and starker measures were hinted at. Seventy-six U.S. senators signed a public letter demanding the immediate resumption of aid to Israel. An embarrassed Kissinger summoned Israeli ambassador Simcha Dinitz for a dressing-down.
 
      “This letter will kill you!” Kissinger shouted at Dinitz. “It will increase anti-Semitism! It will cause people to charge that Jews control Congress!”
 
      In the end, Rabin, after a three-month standoff, agreed to withdraw Israeli forces from some disputed mountain passes and Ford and Kissinger resumed aid to Israel. Ford never did develop a warm relationship with Rabin, but by the time the president left office, in January 1977, the gloomy period of the oil embargo and Israel’s declining popularity was receding into history.
 
      Israel’s image had been immeasurably boosted by the dramatic July 4, 1976 rescue of more than a hundred Jewish and Israeli hostages held in Uganda by Palestinian and German terrorists – a military action that simultaneously restored the IDF’s old luster and reminded a generation of Americans shell-shocked by Vietnam that sometimes military force is the only viable option.
 
      As for Kissinger, his policy of detente had failed to check Soviet aggression, and the fall of South Vietnam made a mockery of one of his most vaunted diplomatic “successes.” In November 1975 Ford stripped him of his position as national security adviser, appointing Brent Scowcroft, a Kissinger prot?g?, to fill the position. Kissinger remained on as secretary of state, but his power and prestige were never the same.
 
      The irony of Gerald Ford’s brief term as president is that the breath of fresh air he brought to an Oval Office enveloped in the fumes of corruption failed to blow away the stale vestiges of Kissingerian Realpolitik, in the Middle East and elsewhere.
 
      It was left to Jimmy Carter, in his own tentative and largely misguided manner, and then to Ronald Reagan, with his clear-eyed view of American virtue and Soviet villainy, to set a new course for American foreign policy in the closing years of the 20th century.
 

      Jason Maoz is senior editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at jmaoz@jewishpress.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/on-middle-east-ford-was-a-kissinger-acolyte/2007/01/03/

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